A third-party civil discovery subpoena issued to providers of Web mail services and social networking services is unenforceable under the Stored Communications Act, a district court ruled. The court noted that the SCA prohibits a provider of an "electronic communications service" (ECS) from knowingly divulging the contents of a communication while it is in "electronic storage," and similarly prohibits a provider of a "remote communications service" (RCS) from knowingly divulging the contents of communications carried or maintained on that service. The court concluded that a Web mail provider or a social networking service that provides internal e-mail services can be both an ECS and an RCS within the meaning of the SCA, and that both unread and read mail on such services is protected from disclosure. The court also concluded that information on social network services, such as pages and comments, are protected from disclosure via third-party subpoena to the extent that access to them is limited by the user's privacy settings and they are not available to the general public.

Crispin v. Audigier Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52832 (C.D. Cal. May 26, 2010) Download PDF

Editor’s Note: This opinion is of particular interest for its extensive analysis of the applicability of the Stored Communications Act to relatively recent communications technologies such as Web mail and social networking sites that were not in use when the SCA was drafted.